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The Psychology of Marketing and Consumer Behavior, Part 2

The Power of Choice

In part one of this series on the psychology of marketing and consumer behavior, we gave a brief overview of the definition of consumer behavior, the impact it has on society, and how it is applied by marketers. This week we’ll be discussing the capital C: Consumer. We’ll give an overview of the different types of consumers, their impact, and how marketers apply this information in order to position a product or service to appeal to its target audience.

The Consumer, Defined

When marketers talk about the consumer, they aren’t referring necessarily to an individual buyer. A consumer can, of course, be an individual, but it can also refer to a group, an organization, a demographic, or even another business. The definition is fluid and depends on the industry or client for whom the marketer is working. Broadly, a consumer is a person or other entity that purchases goods or services.

We’re all consumers—yes, even the marketers. It’s where we, as people, can exercise our greatest power: choice. Even something as small and seemingly insignificant as buying a candy bar is relevant and can have a powerful effect on society. The ways in which we, as customers, choose to spend our money informs the market of our preferences and habits, which in turn help to create a better purchasing environment.

Consumers are the key decision makers in the economic system, with an intrinsic social responsibility beyond simply servicing their immediate needs. The average person makes hundreds of purchasing decisions per day, including:

  • whether or not to purchase a product
  • what to buy, and when
  • choosing between competitive products
  • the degree to which they are influenced by marketing and advertising

Choice is a powerful tool. It enables the average person, who may have little impact on societal change and direction, to participate directly in the economic processes on which businesses and our society are built. If people choose not to purchase a product, companies can utilize that feedback to make it better; if people are purchasing a product, companies can better understand what the consumer wants; and can therefore provide it, perfect it over time, and do their part to enrich people’s lives.

The Four Types of Consumer Behavior

According to conventional marketing wisdom, there are four key consumer behaviors: impulse, routine, occasional, and planned.

  1. Impulse

Impulse purchases are those candy bars, lip balms, magazines, and other trinkets that crowd the shelves at the register. They are typically non-essential, low-priced items on which customers spend very little time on the decision to buy or not buy.

  1. Routine

Routine purchases are those we make all the time out of necessity, habit, or because they are part of our lifestyle. Groceries, gas, a morning cup of coffee, and other small purchases are all considered routine or programmed purchases. The hallmark of this type of consumer behavior is the relatively quick and easy decision making process. Routine purchases do not typically rely on reviews or recommendations, and customers spend very little time deciding whether or not to buy these products.

  1. Occasional

Occasional, or limited-decision purchases, are those products we buy every now and then, or as needed. Clothes, entertainment, smaller household items, and unfamiliar brands belong to this category. These items take a moderate amount of time to decide upon, are typically more expensive than routine or impulse purchases, and benefit from reviews, recommendations, and light research.

  1. Planned

Planned, or extensive-decision purchases, are the big ones. These are appliances and goods such as televisions, computers, refrigerators, ovens, cars, and houses. Because of the significantly higher price tag, these items generally require heavy research and extensive planning, and are typically purchased mentally before being obtained. Professional consultants – i.e. salespeople, financial officers, and accountants – are often sought after to help with the decision. Because of the intricacies involved with such a purchase, the decision-making process takes much longer.

These types of buying behaviors are key to marketers. After all, we can’t sell if we don’t know to whom we’re selling. But more than that, it allows us to sell to people who want to be sold to. We can position and sell products in order to enrich people’s lives rather than intrude on them, and we can ultimately do our part to help humanity as a whole.

Next week, we’ll discuss the ways in which marketers and advertisers use the study of consumer behavior and purchasing habits to create more effective campaigns that appeal to their target audience.